The Touch of Christmas program always keeps staff at Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre busy filling baskets for local families in need. This year, they are asking for more cash donations, to allow families, including seniors, to shop with gift cards according to their needs and local businesses to also gain some benefit. Submitted photo.

A Touch of Christmas is a basket of help

Seniors’ needs surprise CFEC with vast majority of registrants

Christmas is a time that touches most people living in the South Cariboo, much like any other community in Canada. That’s why families in need often experience the extra financial struggle to put holiday food on the table, and gifts like clothes for the youths and toys for the children under the tree – if they can afford a tree.

That’s why the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre (CFEC) developed the Touch of Christmas program more than five years ago, says Debbra Williams, facilitator for the program.

“Every year, we help anywhere from 50 to 75 families [or more] who sign up here for a Christmas Basket. In that, traditionally we have put food items and clothing and holiday candy and things like that.”

Now, a major change to the Touch of Christmas program has the CFEC asking for financial donations this year, rather than physical items such as food and toys, and Williams explains the main reasons are two-fold.

“This year, we are doing it a little bit differently because of the wildfires, and we wanted people that are applying for the Christmas baskets to have a little more say in what they are getting.”

Williams says by enabling families to choose what they need through local merchant gift cards, this not only helps them to personalize the grocery, clothing and toys in their “Christmas basket,” but also helps the local community and its businesses.

An added benefit is in the financial sense, both through the greater buying power societies have through discounts when spending large amounts of money at stores, and anyone making cash donations of $25 or more may request a tax receipt, she explains.

Williams notes the Touch of Christmas program has been collecting and accepting all sorts of donations to the program since the end of October.

“We still get lots of donations, so we will have clothing items, gift items, and we still will provide seasonal treats for families.

“All the things that go in the baskets are donated, so we are really [asking] this year to receive cash to enable us to purchase all these gift cards for our families. We are trying to reach a goal of $6,000.”

Williams says while the total changes daily, as of Dec. 5, the cash donations were more than halfway to their program goal.

However, they don’t know how many people they will see this year, as families typically wait until quite late in the holiday season to register, she explains.

Williams adds there has also been a definite demographic shift in the faces they’ve seen already this year.

“We have a lot of seniors this year, which is surprising … traditionally we have half a dozen or so, but this year we are seeing a vast majority of the applicant families are seniors.”

They are living on fixed incomes, and Williams says she believes this year’s influx of seniors registering for baskets is mostly due to financial struggles following this summer’s wildfires.

The wildfires are also what tipped the scales toward placing gift cards rather than food, clothing and toys – to support the local merchants as well as the people who need these Christmas baskets.

The program facilitator says the baskets are being assembled now and families will be contacted for pick-up beginning on Dec. 15, so they sure don’t want to turn away anyone who registers closer to Christmas.

Williams says it is important to keep the CFEC shelves and coffers stocked up for these families and seniors who can use a touch of support through a basket from their community.

“It’s not just a Christmas need. It helps into the New Year as well.”

For more information on the Touch of Christmas campaign, or for more ways to donate, call Debbra Williams at 250-395-5155. To register to receive a Christmas Basket or to drop off a donation, visit CFEC at #1-486 Birch Ave.

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